The Self-Contained World

Someone once said that with the internet, you don’t need anyone else.  Something similar could be said of living on the consulate compund in Calcutta.  We’ve got it all there, and if it’s not there it will come to you just by calling.  In this job in this place I find it actually more difficult to do things for yourself.  Someone will open the door for you, the laundry magically appears folded and clean, you can’t possibly walk by the guard’s booth without having to reply “Good Morning” to the greeting you’ve just received. TV not working?, just call and they’ll come change the jack on your outlet from 110v to 220v. 

There are jobs upon jobs, too.  Many seem to present an opportunity for someone to engage their body and mind in some trivial task, for money of course.  I went for a haircut at the local salon just down the street — Habib’s.  I was given a shampoo, then spent the next 20 minutes getting my hair cut by committee.   One young fellow actually cut my hair and chatted amiably with me in English after asking, “You don’t speak Hindi, Sir?  (Nah, sucka, just for 10 weeks this summer…)  By his side was the guy armed with a brush to periodically dust the hair trimmings from my face, and playing yes-man to his musings.  Third was the poor guy who waited for my hair to fall or to be brushed onto the floor, where he would dutifully sweep it away.

A hierarchy.  Again.  In India.  What a surprise.  I can’t help feeling that on one level India is all about social order — how to organize it, but even more importantly, how to keep it from getting out of control.  And there are moments when it seems like it’s going to descend into chaos in an instant, but then, like all traffic jams here, something shifts (a small little something, maybe a scooter) and the country goes on, held together with bailing wire and betel-flavored chewing gum


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